“There’s no formula anymore”: Sloan Peterson chats her nostalgic debut album

Listening to the dreamy guitar-pop of Sloan Peterson (real name Joe Jackson) feels a lot like flipping through a stack of old 45s. There’s a nostalgia in her music—one that captures the magic of generations past, all while feeling suited to a modern setting.

On her debut full-length, Midnight Love, Vol. 2, she dances between vintage French-pop, raucous garage, and dreamy psych, delivering a sound uniquely her own. So a couple of months removed from the album’s release, we caught up with Jackson to chat all about it, repurposing vintage music for modern times, and the power of a bizarre dream.

Photos: Charlie Hardy

I’ve got no clue what’s next. I feel like there’s no formula anymore. There’s no routine“: We chat with Sloan Peterson about her debut album.

HAPPY: First of all, congrats on getting your debut album out! How does it feel?

JOE: It’s pretty funny actually, because I hadn’t listened to it since getting the masters back. I had a little listen to it on Spotify, and I was like “oh, this actually flows pretty well.” I wrote all the songs when I was 17 or 18, so listening back to it now, I just kind of laugh about it. The songs are just so teenage. It’s me encapsulated as a teenager. There was nothing else going on in my life except for feeling heartbroken. Now there are so many bigger fish to fry. It’s so humorous. That’s why I called it Midnight Love… it’s an ode to being young and thinking boys were everything. Not all the songs are about boys, but listening back to it, that’s how it sounds.

HAPPY: Yeah, well what is it like revisiting those old tracks? I imagine it’d be like reading through an old yearbook or something…

JOE: Yeah it’s like a diary entry from my teenage self. At the time I was also really obsessed with The Beatles, and I thought songs had to be ditties. You listen to The Beatles, and it’s all “she loves you.” It was a time when they couldn’t express emotion outside of that literal way. Everything was a rhyming little ditty. Now I feel like I’m writing songs that are more in-depth and personal, they’re more about life as opposed to love.

HAPPY: When you are sitting on songs for that amount of time, is it difficult sticking with those songs? Does it get tempting to brush them off and move onto the next thing?

JOE: Well I’ve been playing these songs for so long, and they’ve got such a structure. Whenever I try and bring new songs to the table for the band, I’ll run through it with them, and they’ll have these blank faces, and I’ll say “alright this song’s shit.” Everything new is difficult at the start because you’re just not used to it. I almost forget what it was like to build up from the bottom. Does that answer your question?

HAPPY: Yeah, I think it does. And this debut album has been presented as the second part of your EP. When you put out that first EP, was it always the plan that you’d release these two parts?

JOE: Oh god no. So I had all the songs from the EP and the album… only New Direction and Our Love and Don’t Get Me Started were new. Those three were newer and a bit more meaningful to me, in a way, then the rest of the songs were all kind of encompassed together. And the album was originally just meant to be another EP. We had two EPs that we were going to call Midnight Love Volumes 1 & 2, then I started writing those three other songs, so once I’d recorded them, my management said they’d all sound really good together, so let’s make this a debut album. And at the time I wanted my debut album to be new, fresh ideas… because you only get to release your debut album once. But looking back, I’m really happy with it. It’s a good little package.

HAPPY: And you released 105 on the new album too, which makes it feel like you were expanding on that original sound…

JOE: Yeah, that’s right. And looking back at it, I think that’s right. I think it was an expansion. And I’ve got no clue what’s next. I feel like there’s no formula anymore. There’s no routine…

HAPPY: Nobody knows what they’re doing…

JOE: That’s right, no one knows. We’re all stabbing in the dark. Hopefully, we strike somebody. Oh, that sounded bad.

HAPPY: Nah fuck it, draw some blood.

JOE: We’re really painting a pretty picture here.

HAPPY: With Our Love, it signalled a pretty big change in direction, I felt. There was a really cool French pop thing going on. Was that a conscious effort to have that pivotal release at that point in time?

JOE: Yeah, I think so. At the same time, that song in particular, I wrote about this friend who had this nightmare that her boyfriend was the devil, and that God told her that she needs to leave him and follow God. And she did. She told me the next day, and she literally stopped being my best friend, she left him, and she moved to Brisbane where she’s now following her passion for God. So that song was all about her love with him ending… “You came to me when I was swaying and dreaming.” It’s like this spiritual journey in my eyes, because I didn’t understand it. I had taken it to the guy who actually mixed my album Thomas Rawle, who used to play in Papa Vs Pretty… lovely guy. I came to him with this idea that I wanted it to be this dream-poppy, French thing. That was going to be a new start of the music I was going to be releasing. But that all kind of got derailed. But once you get someone mixing, it makes it all sound cohesive.

HAPPY: All through your music, whether it’s old-school French pop or something else, there’s a sense of nostalgia. Is that sense of nostalgia something you think about when you’re writing and recording?

JOE: I think it’s all pretty natural. I really struggle to listen to modern music. When people ask me “what are you listening to right now?” I really struggle to think of an answer. The only thing I really listen to is a lot of Roy Orbison and The Beatles. I grew up in a pretty Christian family myself, and the only music we were allowed outside of Christian music was 60s surf… like Link Wray and stuff like that. A lot of jangly guitars, that’s what I grew up on. So I think it’s a conditioning thing. Even if you think you’re swaying away from something, it gets ingrained in you from a young age.

HAPPY: I read a really interesting theory about musicians repurposing old-school music for a modern setting, and fans who enjoy modern music that calls back to a particular point in time… and that is that their enjoyment of that music, whether it calls back to the 60s or 70s, is representative of how they wish things were today… do you think there’s something to that?

JOE: Yeah, I agree. I do agree with that. Not to mention how technology has evolved over time… in the 90s they tried to recreate a real 50s sound, but because of the way amps were being created, it just sounded like the 90s. And now, people want to sound like the 90s, but it sounds different again. That’s just the way it is.

Midnight Love Vol. 2 is available now. Listen here.

Catch Sloan Peterson live at The Oxford Art Factory on August 10th. More info here.